David Baltimore

The American virologist David Baltimore (born 1938) received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his work on retrovirus biochemistry and its significance for cancer research.

David Baltimore was born on March 7, 1938, in New York City, the son of Richard I. and Gertrude (Lipschitz) Baltimore. While still a high school student, he spent a summer at the Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, experiencing biology under actual research conditions. This so affected him that upon entering Swarthmore College in 1956 he declared himself a biology major. Later he switched to chemistry to complete a research thesis and graduated in 1960 with a B.A. and high honors. Between his sophomore and junior years at Swarthmore, he spent a summer at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, where the influence of George Streisinger led him to molecular biology.

Baltimore spent two years of graduate work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in biophysics, then left for a summer with Philip Marcus at the Albert Einstein Medical College and to take the animal virus course at Cold Spring Harbor under Richard Franklin and Edward Simon. He then joined Franklin at the Rockefeller Institute, completing his thesis by 1964 and staying on as a postdoctoral fellow in animal virology with James Darnell.

In 1965 he became a research associate at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies, working in association with Renato Dulbecco. Here he first met Alice S. Huang, with whom he also conducted research. He and Huang were married on October 5, 1968, and that same year they returned to MIT, where he held the position of associate professor of microbiology until 1971. In 1972 he rose to full professorship, and in 1974 he joined the staff of the MIT Center for Cancer Research under Salvador Luria.


Received Recognition For Cancer and Immunology Research

Baltimore received many awards for his work. In 1971 he was the recipient of the Gustav Stern award in virology, the Warren Triennial Prize, and the Eli Lilly and Co. award in microbiology and immunology. A year after being promoted to full professorship at MIT, he was rewarded a lifetime research professorship by the American Cancer Society. In 1974 he was presented with the U.S. Steel Foundation award in molecular biology and the Gairdner Foundation Annual Award. His most prestigious award came in 1975 when he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine with Howard M. Temin and Renato Dulbecco for research on retro-viruses and cancer. Much of this work concentrated upon protein and nucleic acid synthesis of RNA (ribonucleic acid) animal viruses, especially polio-virus and the RNA tumor virus. His research demonstrated that the flow of genetic information in such viruses did not have to go from DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) to RNA but could flow from RNA to DNA, a finding which undermined the central dogma of molecular biology—i.e., unilinear information flow from DNA to proteins. This process came to be called, facetiously, "reverse transcriptase."

Baltimore's interests later took him further into the study of how viruses reproduce themselves and into work on the immune systems of animals and humans, where he concentrated upon the process by which antibodies may develop. Central to much of this work was DNA technology, in which he maintained an active interest.

Baltimore proved himself an effective educator, conducting seminars with graduate students and younger colleagues. He also became successful at directing research rather than doing it himself, again working closely with students.


Research Debacle

In 1989 Thereza Imanishi-Kari, a collegue with whom he co-authored a 1986 paper on immunology for Cell, was charged with falsifying data. Imanishi-Kari, a Massachussets Institute of Technology Assistant Professor, was absolved when a top government ethics panel declared they found no wrongdoing in 1996. Although Baltimore was never implicated in any wrongdoing, the incident caused him to withdraw the paper. He was also pressured by colleagues to resign from his presidency at New York's Rockefeller University, which he did in 1991.

Baltimore Chairs AIDS Vaccine Research Panel

In December 1996, Baltimore became the head of a new AIDS vaccine research panel for the Office of AIDS Research at the National Institute of Health. The panel was formed to step up the search for an AIDS vaccine. He also became the President of the California Institute of Technology in 1997.


Further Reading on David Baltimore

Short biographies of David Baltimore can be found in the 39th edition of Who's Who in America (1976-1977) and in the 14th edition of American Men and Women of Science: Physical and Biological Sciences (1979). He provided an autobiographical sketch in the Nobel Lectures (1977), and a New York Times interview (August 26, 1980) gives additional information.

For further reading, see: Appeals Panel Reverses Fraud Finding by K. Fackelmann in Science News, July 6, 1996; Baltimore to Head New Vaccine Panel by Jon Cohen in Science, December 20, 1996; and A Shot In the Arm by Mark Schoofs, The Village Voice, December 24, 1996.